Where will we go if ever the independent cinema industry goes dark? We are not so far away from that cinematic armageddon and I fear, with each passing day, and through each festival I attend, that iconoclastic voices are being silenced.
Thankfully, at this year's Berlinale, there are a couple of films in Competition which go against everything that a "competition film" should be. Whatever that definition is. I applaud the festival organizers for having had the courage to show them, and their continued support of indie voices.
One such film is Mani Haghigi's 'Pig' ('Khook') a wildly colorful, humorous, dark and fresh ride through the Iranian film industry. Now wild and colorful, with women protagonists who run the show is hardly a definition one would typically associate with Iranian cinema and yet Haghigi manages it all. And reinvents cinema in the process.
When I sat with him for our interview, I told him 'Pig' for me was like a high school reunion of Iranian film greats. The visual feast of seeing Payman Maadi at the director's funeral, hearing Rakshan Bani-Etemad's name mentioned as one of the filmmakers who'd had her head chopped off, and even the use of Leila Hatami ('A Separation') in a leading, strong woman role, basically playing her coquettish self and all, was like attending a party where you know everyone. And you can relax from the moment you step in, knowing you'll be having a great time!
Haghigi admitted that he did it, put together all these names because he imagined it "would be exhilarating for Iranian audiences to watch familiar faces," and he seemed tickled that I had noticed most of them. "Oh, there's Payman Maadi at my funeral!" He laughed at how fun indeed it would be to find that industry within a film aspect, all ready to be discovered by those who wish to.
Fabulous women, depending on where you stand and who you consider in the running, are not scarce these days. From the courage of those keeping up the momentum on the #MeToo movement, to the women filmmakers who continue to make movies according to their feminine vision, I applaud them all.
Yet phenomenal women are few and far apart. They possess the ability to change the world and throughout their lives, they relentlessly fight for what is right. Courage to me isn't a spur of guts in a specific moment, rather the ability to continue onward even when everything seems to be against you. Or when the rest of the world hasn't caught up to your vision, yet.
Beki Probst is a phenomenal woman. I first met her this summer in Locarno, and her legendary status was only equaled by her kindness and class. As we caught up watching films sitting side by side, found the time to share a cappuccino together (her treat!) she even encouraged me to take an impromptu photo with a favorite Indian superstar. Up-close and personal, I found her to be the kind of woman we should all aspire to be -- strong, unapologetic and generous.
At this year's festival, Ms. Probst was awarded the Berlinale Camera which is a prize near and dear to the festival's heart, bestowed to individuals "as a token of gratitude for their contributions to cinema." This wondrous woman after all is the creator of the EFM film market and her concept has been copied and recreated all over the cinematic world.
Then, last but not least on my Diaries, as I prepare to take off from Berlin hopefully to return next year, I needed, craved to touch upon Martin Šulík's 'The Interpreter', a film which conquered my heart in so many ways.
Drawing on the success of actor Peter Simonischek in the Oscar-nominated 'Toni Erdmann', in 'The Interpreter' he's paired with another legend of European cinema, the magnificent Jiří Menzel who also received a Berlinale Camera at this year's fest -- though unable to travel here due to to health reasons. The two men raise the question of whether it is easier to grow up the son of a criminal or that of the victims of the former's actions, and filmmaker Šulík does so with such care and soulful humor that I found myself crying and laughing at the same time. Nothing gives me more joy in life.
Catching up with Šulík and Simonischek in person was one of the highlights of this year's Berlinale and with a few of my more enlightened colleagues -- most of them women of course! -- we agreed that the film could easily have been a Competition title. But inclusion in the Berlinale Special section ain't too shabby, and the easy viewing format, slow and deeply poetic, probably lent itself to this section best.
Till next year Berlinale. You gave me your best.